Turkey's parliament has approved a controversial social media regulation bill, in a landmark legal move that many see as a clampdown on freedom of expression within the country. The bill, which was passed by lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), sets a formal and legal precedent for the operation of popular social media sites in Turkey.
The new law obliges the platforms to abide by legal procedures. The entities subject to the bill are defined as those that allow users to create, monitor or share content online such as text, visual and voice interaction, and location data, classing them as social network providers.
Under the new law, any social media platform based abroad which has more than one million daily visitors must assign at least one representative in Turkey, whose contact details have to be included on the company's website in order to make it clear and easy to have access to them. These representatives will be responsible for acting on behalf of their respective social media organisation, and deal with any investigations and legal proceedings regarding offences on the platforms.
If the representative is to be real rather than simply legal, they must also be a Turkish citizen. Platforms will have 48 hours to respond to legal orders to remove content deemed offensive. They will also have to store data on users operating within Turkey. Furthermore, any providers who fail to fulfil their new legal obligations can face fines of between 1 million and 10 million Turkish lira ($146,165 to $1,461,650).
The ratification of the new law comes after years of Turkish politicians calling for such reforms. It has been promoted as even more relevant following online abuse which has compromised the safety of individuals. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's son-in-law and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak and his wife Esra have been targeted on social media after announcing the birth of their fourth child on Twitter this week.
Erdogan himself hit back at the insults in a televised address yesterday in which he said that he had submitted draft legislation for the bill that was ratified today. "Do you see why we oppose social media like YouTube, Twitter, Netflix, etc.?" he asked. "It is imperative that these channels are brought under control." Turkey is not a banana republic, he added. "We will snub those who snub this country's executive and judicial bodies."
The move comes amid growing concern about a government crackdown on social media and freedom of expression within the country. Thousands of social media accounts have been reviewed in recent months and over 400 people were detained over "misleading" social media posts in March and April.
Despite these concerns, the Turkish government maintains that such social media sites require a mechanism to prevent and limit disinformation, insults and defamation campaigns, fake news and potential foreign interference, all of which are rampant on the platforms.